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Functional Strength Training
Source:  Life Fitness Article Database

Many people perform strength training to look good, but it also can help you improve your performance in athletic activities.

Fitness experts now recommend functional strength training (FST) as another way to enhance coordination, muscular strength and endurance - and ultimately to build a body better able to meet the challenges of sports performance.

Becoming increasingly popular in health clubs, FST is an integrated approach to strength training focused on exercising multiple muscles and joints together instead of working muscles in isolation as with conventional strength training. FST emphasizes the body's core muscles - abdomen and back - as stabilizers. The core plays an important role in nearly every sports activity.

"Functional strength training is becoming more popular because it is so practical," said Christine Cunningham, MS, ATC/L, CSCS and a member of the Life Fitness Academy Training Network. "This type of training is an ideal way to help maximize sports performance."

FST should supplement traditional weight lifting and is not intended to replace it. It provides variety and additional benefits that directly transfer to common sport movements. For optimum results, people should perform traditional strength training regularly and supplement this with FST. FST uses free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, pulley weight machines, elastic bands, stability balls and balance boards. Conveniently, these tools now are available for use in the home as well as the gym.

Basically, in FST, exercises should mimic the movements of the sport while working against resistance. For best results, train with movements that follow and are equal to or greater than the current range of motion, and are at the same speed as the sport's movement to be performed. Research indicates that training at high speeds improves performance on dynamic movements, such as a vertical jump, better than training at low speeds.

Also make sure to coordinate all the muscles involved in the movement for maximum effectiveness. With FST, you don't want to only train the shoulder to throw better; it is important also to train the chest, back, biceps, triceps and abdominals, as you simulate a throwing movement. Use muscular contractions and speed of movement during training that are specific to the demands of the sport. A personal trainer can provide you with exercises that use these contractions.

Keeping in mind that range of motion, speed of movement, coordination and type of contraction are critical factors, the following are some examples of ways to conduct FST for specific sports:

A golfer who wants to maximize his/her power (and thereby lengthen the distance of his/her shots) should focus on the major muscles involved in the golf swing from the legs and hips to the torso and through the upper body - perhaps by using a high pulley with weights and simulating his/her swing all the way from the beginning of the stroke to the follow-through. A soccer player who wants to improve the speed and distance of his/her kick could use an ankle strap on a low pulley machine to mimic the kicking motion used on the playing field, challenging the muscles of the legs along with balance and torso stabilization.

A tennis player can develop a more powerful forehand or backhand by using a pulley with resistance to mimic the swinging movement, including chest, shoulder and forearm muscles and torso rotation.

Strength training isn't just about improving your physique anymore. Incorporating FST can enhance overall well-being and help you achieve your potential in the playing arena.

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